This post is part of an ongoing series inspired by the University of Colorado School of Architecture’s design work for Buffalo Peaks Ranch, the future home of the Rocky Mountain Land Library (and hopefully a sheepwagon or two).
In 2001, a wonderful Wyoming publisher, High Plains Press, published one of the Land Library’s favorite books, Sheepwagon: Home on the Range. Author Nancy Weidel offered one crisp, concise reason for our admiration: “The sheepwagon is a marvel of practicality and efficiency.”
But there’s more reasons to love this book, with its stories, photographs, and sensitive appreciation for hard lives lived in a starkly beautiful land. This book makes clear that the sheepwagon provided both a bit of warmth, and a touch of home. Weidel: “Designed to provide shelter and heat, mobility, and storage, the sheepwagon was the ideal home for the herder….It could easily be moved by two horses, a most important feature.”
Yes, as you can see, every inch counted, but space also needed to be found for the unexpected. Some sheepwagons had side boxes that “came in handy during lambing, when a weak newborn might be placed there overnight to be revived by the heat of the wagon stove.”
Given Buffalo Peaks Ranch’s tradition of sheep ranching, we would love to see at least a few sheepwagons return to South Park. Of course, being the impractical book people that we are, we immediately lose the point of the story and wonder, what books can we fit in this tiny space? When life is pared to its essentials, don’t we still need at least a small shelf of books? Here’s a few we would pick:
Two classic memoirs of the American West: This House of Sky: Landscapes of a Western Mind by Ivan Doig, and The Solace of Open Spaces by Gretel Ehrlich, along with a book that provides a vocabulary for all you can see from a sheepwagon’s steps: Home Ground: Language for an American Landscape, edited by Barry Lopez and Debra Gwartney, and most definitely this classic Basque story of sheepherding in the American West, and the long lost homeland of the Pyrenees: Sweet Promised Land by Robert Laxalt.
from Western Wagon Wheels by Lambert Florin
And of course there’s this classic memoir from the Land Library’s shelves — Archer Gilfillan’s Sheep: Life on the South Dakota Range(1929). Here’s Gilfillan writing simply and eloquently about little known lives:
“One of the popular misconceptions about herding is that it is a monotonous job; or as a friend of mine puts it, ‘Herding is all right if you don’t have an active mind.” But there is really little monotony in it. The sheep rarely act the same two days in succession. If they run one day, they are apt to be quiet the next. They herd differently in a high wind from what they do in a gentle breeze. They travel with a cold wind and against a warm one. They are apt to graze contentedly where feed is plenty and to string out and run where the pickings are poor. Herding at one season is so different from herding at another as almost to constitute a different job.”